Unlearning, Revisited.

The very first article I read on Zite this morning  was a blog post written by Dr. Chris Dede (incidentally the keynote speaker last week at #on21Clearn in Toronto).

Dr. Dede begins by reminding us that the knowledge and skills of teachers and classroom educators are the most important factor in student learning.  Having said that, transformative change means that much of what teachers know, believe in and do, will need to be changed, and this is a very difficult task.

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“Professional development for transformative change is very challenging because participants not only must learn new skills, but also must “unlearn” almost unconscious beliefs, assumptions, practices, and values about the nature of teaching, learning, and schooling.  In this situation, too often teachers are provided learning experiences that are purely cognitive, but professional development that requires unlearning necessitates high levels of emotional/social support in addition to intellectual and technical guidance.”

Dr. Chris Dede, Education Week, Leadership 360, October 26, 2014

 Finland has included the “unlearning” of teaching strategies in its Teacher Education programs for many years.  The understanding of the importance of an intense teacher training program, with opportunity for research, extensive practice teaching with highly competent mentors, and graduate work, is at the heart of the Finnish teacher education system.  There is an understanding that initial teacher training is essential to a high performing school system.

“The basic aim of every teacher education programme is to educate
competent teachers and to develop the necessary professional qualities to
ensure lifelong teaching careers for teachers. Behind this aim is the belief
that initial teacher education is of paramount importance and that any
defects appearing in the programme will have consequences that will be
extremely difficult to correct later on.”

Pertti Kansanen

Teacher Education in Finland: Current Models and New Developments

Technology has the power to transform learning for students.  Indeed, there are pockets across the country and around the world where this is already happening.  But using technology without changing our thinking about learning will not result in the ‘deep learning’ we are hoping for.  We need to give up some cherished beliefs about schooling before change can happen for our students. 

“Transforming from presentational/assimilative instruction to this form of pedagogy requires from teachers substantial unlearning of mental models and emotional investments in them. These mental models have been developed through decades of being students themselves, receiving traditional instruction, and further years of building skills in conventional instruction.”

Dr. Chris Dede, Education Week, Leadership 360, October 26, 2014

“Unlearning” is unsettling.  As educators, we take pride in our work and we are emotionally invested in doing what is best for our students.  Realizing that our beliefs about what constitutes ‘great teaching’ does not result in the ‘deep learning’ our students need is emotionally challenging.  Rethinking and relearning requires strong support and affirmation as educators move forward in changing practice.

As we consider how we design learning opportunities for educators, we must remember that this is more than a cognitive shift.  It is a shift in a belief system, and from a belief system to an evidence-based, inquiry model of learning.  It requires modelling, and nurturing, at all levels of the education system.

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Further reading:

What will you ‘unlearn’ today?

Five things I’ve learned (Dr. Chris Dede)

Education policies for raising student learning: The Finnish approach (Pasi Sahlberg)

Finland’s secret sauce: It’s teachers

Teacher education in Finland (Diane Ravitch)

Nobody likes to hear it (Dangerously Irrelevant)

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